The security arm of the Soviet state, established in December 1917 as the VeCheka (All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage), had many names over the years. It was known from 1954 to 1991 as the KGB (State Security Committee). The power of the political, or “secret,” police reached its apogee in the 1930s and 1940s, when they terrorized the population and the Soviet elite almost at will, taking cues only from Stalin and his henchmen. The post-Stalin KGB relied on less blatant techniques of coercion and worked closely with the party leadership as a whole. According to Western estimates, the KGB had between 400,000 and 700,000 full-time employees, exclusive of agents and informers. Non-political policing and maintenance of public order were organized by a separate agency called the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs).
Domestically, departments of the KGB arrested and prosecuted persons suspected of political offenses, kept watch on the artists’ unions and helped supervise the censorship organ Glavlit, collected information about social and economic trends, and were responsible for counterintelligence against foreign espionage. Other divisions consisted of guard units, signal troops that managed confidential communication, border troops that stood vigil over the USSR’s long frontiers, and special departments charged with maintaining the political reliability of the army. The KGB also took the lead in Soviet intelligence abroad, and for that reason had input into the making of the USSR’s foreign policy. That role seemed to increase after Yury Andropov, the chief of the KGB, was made a member of the CPSU Politburo in 1973. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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